AE | Volumes | Asian Ethnology 76 (2)

Time in Flux

Daily and Weekly Rhythms in Rural Pakistan

Muhammad A. Z. Mughal

Day leisure Pakistan social change time allocation week weekend



This paper aims to highlight that daily and weekly rhythms, being a part of the social organization of time, mediate people’s responses to social change in rural Pakistan. Indigenous ways of measuring different stages of the day have recently been replaced by clock time as a consequence of industrialization and urbanization. Further, changing socioeconomic circumstances have given rise to a new temporal rhythm, which is unfolded in daily time allocation for different activities. The debate regarding whether Sunday or Friday should be the weekend in Pakistan points to the contested notions of time that can be explained on the basis of temporal identity, religion, and urbanization. By using an ethnographic example, this study also discusses how daily and weekly rhythms are maintained in rural Pakistan through the socioeconomic realities of everyday life.

Every culture has its own ways of measuring and managing time through calendars, clocks, and other formal and informal temporal markers to regulate social and economic activities. The social organization of time is connected with other elements of social organization such as religion, economics, and politics (cf. Geertz 1966, 360–411; Goody 1968; Gingrich, Ochs and Swedlund 2002; Herzfeld 1990; Musharbash 2007; Schieffelin 2002). Cultural models of time such as calendars and clocks are thus socially constructed. People perceive time through physical phenomena such as the alternation of days and nights, phases of the moon, seasonal variations, and biological changes in the human body throughout the life cycle. In other words, time and change are interrelated in human experience. I have discussed elsewhere that the social organization of time, as that of space, links different aspects of social organization, for example politics, religion, and economics (Mughal 2014a,Mughal 2014b,Mughal 2015a).1 Therefore, temporal orientation underscores noticeable changes in the overall system of social organization that negotiates and reshapes social relationships.

Rural communities in Pakistan arguably have been said to be more "traditional" and "conservative" than their urban counterparts. They are considered as such because of certain norms and values, traditional authority patterns, the lack of modern education, and traditional gender roles, among other reasons, that prevail in rural areas. Rural communities in Pakistan, I argue, have experienced social change over centuries and have adapted to inevitably changing socioeconomic conditions while maintaining their specific way of living. In recent decades, industrialization and urbanization have taken place in rural Pakistan due to ongoing contact with cities through modern modes of transportation and temporary labor migration (Ali 2003; Gardezi and Mumtaz 2004; Haider 1981; Hasan 2009; Qadeer 2006; Weiss and Mughal 2012). An inadequate supply of land available for agriculture coupled with population growth and rapid urbanization has resulted in a gradual shift from an agricultural and seasonal economy to a market economy. Indigenous temporal models, like the stages of the day, have seen shifts amid these changing socioeconomic circumstances, which has resulted in people overwhelmingly adopting clock time in rural areas. This paper offers an anthropological analysis of daily and weekly rhythms in rural Pakistan by drawing on an ethnographic example. I will show that there are certain temporal markers apparent in rural life and identify the cultural models of time linked with mundane activities that have undergone changes due to overall social change.

Different qualities and quantities of time, such as tempo and timing through which people perform their activities, are like the articulation of time between different notes while playing music, giving rise to a rhythm (Gabrielsson 1986; You 1994). By analogy, people's management of time and their experience of change mark the daily flow of life. People regulate their daily lives by allocating specific amounts of time to specific activities. Anthropological analyses have demonstrated that people allocate time for different activities with certain social intervals interspersed between them (e.g., tea break, lunchtime). These culturally constructed intervals follow each other in an orderly fashion. The description of the time spent by individuals for different activities is one of the fundamental tasks of ethnography, but the "ethnographic estimates of time inputs" are rarely quantified (Johnson 1996). With the increase in the diversity of occupations and other alterations in rural social organization in Pakistan, the quantified estimates of time inputs may assist us in the study of how social change occurs.

The weekly rhythm of activities in Pakistan is anchored and maintained by the concept of the weekend, which is conceived to be either Friday (the Muslim day of communal prayer) and/or Sunday. Since Friday is the grand prayer day, it functions as a temporal marker for Muslims, whereas employing Sunday as the weekly holiday has been contested politically. During the colonial era, Sunday was the official holiday, however, Friday always remained an important day for Muslims. After the end of the British Raj, Sunday and Friday have alternated as weekly holidays during different periods in Pakistan (Esposito 1998, 175). In 1947, Pakistan adopted Sunday as the weekend due to its colonial legacy. Under the 1956 constitution, however, Pakistan adopted the title Islamic Republic to make it more compatible with the idea that Islam was the basis of its national identity. Later on, the government also declared Friday as the weekend, but in 1997 the government announced Sunday as the weekend in order to allow for the maximum benefits of the international market and to promote business with the West. The use of Sunday as the weekend in the cultural context of Pakistan thus points to the effects of globalization. In big cities, the weekend as a weekly holiday when the worker gets a day off is observed because of fixed schedules employed at offices, factories, and other industries. The extent to which the "weekend" matters for people living in rural areas is not as straightforward as we might imagine.

I have explained elsewhere that three different calendars have been used in rural Pakistan, albeit to varying extents and for different activities (Mughal 2014b). These include a lunisolar agrarian calendar, the Islamic lunar calendar, and the Gregorian calendar. The use of the local agrarian calendar is declining and is limited to the older generation only. However, the names of months in this calendar, as well as the seasonal reckoning that is done mainly through this calendar, are still a part of cultural memory. The Islamic calendar is still being practiced as it has been used for centuries, because it marks all of the numerous religious festivals practiced locally and nationally. Over time, the use of the Gregorian calendar has increased in rural areas, as it was mainly practiced in cities until fairly recently. The changing use of these calendars highlights people's adaptation to social change. Similar to the changing use of these calendars, I will now explain how globalization and urbanization shape the daily and weekly rhythmic cycle in rural Pakistan. I will discuss the decreasing use of the indigenous way of dividing the day as a result of the increase in the use of clock time, indicating the shift away from an agricultural economy in the direction of a market economy. I will also highlight that despite being the official weekend, Sunday is less effective in rural areas for two reasons. First, Friday is an important day in Muslim culture no matter what day is considered the official weekend. Second, a weekly "day of rest" is absent in rural social organization, at least partially if not fully.

Before discussing the ethnographic details of daily and weekly rhythms, I wish to detail how anthropologists study time. While doing so, I do not intend to discuss in much detail the methodological or theoretical debates on the study of time that have occurred over the years in the discipline; rather, I focus on two main points that concern the research presented here. First, anthropological analyses of time have provided us with the understanding that there are no fixed ways of approaching time, mainly because of the complexities of the nature of time across human cultures. Second, time and change are two interconnected concepts, so studying the social organization of time also provides us with insights into the transformations that occur in the overall social organization.

The Anthropology of Time

Time reckoning appears to be a universal phenomenon and many anthropological studies show that every society has a peculiar system of time reckoning, which "circumscribes" their existence (Gingrich, Ochs and Swedlund 2002, 3). Time as a part of social organization interacts with other components and conditions of social complexity (Burman 1981, 266). In other words, time is a source for "co-ordinating relationship[s]" (Evans-Pritchard 1940, 108). Therefore, we can come closer to understanding the worldview of a community by studying its social organization of time (Munn 1992, 123).

Goody 1968 (30–38) has explained that the social organization of time includes three main components. First, it includes systems of time measurement based upon the "cosmic cycle" and the "human cycle." The cosmic cycle includes such divisions of time as day, night, week, month, season, and year. It also involves two types of rites of passage: religious (e.g., shrine festivals) and non-religious (e.g., national holidays). The human cycle complements the cosmic cycle by including the categorization of biological life into various stages such as childhood, adolescence, and old age. It also involves rites of passage to celebrate these stages. Second, the allocation and scheduling of time by individuals is also an element of the social organization of time. People allocate different amounts of time for different activities. Lastly, people's attitudes toward time are also a part of the social organization of time. These attitudes are based on the aforementioned cycles, resulting in the categorization of time as past, present, and future. Calendars and clocks help people regulate their activities, keep track of their past, and plan for their future. Similarly, the categorization of time into various stages of human life, such as childhood and old age, holds different social, economic, and moral connotations associated with these stages.

Numerous anthropological studies in different cultures have highlighted the importance of time in social structure. For instance, while explaining his theory of practice, Bourdieu 1977 (6) indicated that the "delayed exchange" duration between giving and reciprocating gifts provides information about obligations involved in the gift exchange. Gluckman 1977 (271–75) found that the lineage system has a fixed stretch of time, from the origin of humans to their "present-day descendants" in tribal societies. For each type of group and social relationship, there is a specific "time-scale" in these societies. Roberts (1982) found that people in Zaire differentiate between heroes based on their deaths in either wet or dry seasons. Such a differentiation of heroes reveals the preferences for some seasons over others defined by the group's socioeconomic structure. In the same way, differential notions of time for both men and women in Sri Lanka, along with the power of time in the mythical aspect of Sinhalese astrology, also indicate the correlation between time and social structure (Kemper 1980).

There is a good deal of anthropological literature to show how rituals and ceremonies are organized and celebrated through temporal organization (cf. El Guindi 2008; Evers 1972, 48–60; Geertz 1966, 30–85). Rappaport 1999 (169–235) not only described the performance of rituals with reference to time but also explained the rationale of the temporal organization to fit the social order of any particular case study. For instance, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday for Muslims, Jews, and Christians, respectively, are a religiously defined expression of identity. He also explained that people take "time out of time" from some activities, when time is symbolically suspended (Rappaport 1999, 190). Such temporal bearing, by individuals or society as a whole, indicates people's preference for an ordered way of structuring activities in a pattern of flow.

The differential use of time for different activities is key to making distinctions between work and leisure. Work is seen as an economic category through which humans earn their living whereas leisure is defined in terms of a surplus economy where it is an additional and valued amount of time freed from wage labor (Cooper 1984; Weltfish 1979). Leisure has become an economy in the form of sports, tourism, the cinema industry, and many more activities (Mughal 2014c). However, anthropologists generally tend to study leisure through locally perceived notions in individual cultural contexts. For instance, Deeb and Harb (2013) noted that Shi'i Muslim youth in Lebanon have developed new forms of leisure in which morality and piety are being debated due to the introduction of a capitalist economy.

The use and analysis of time is, of course, not limited to the aspects mentioned above. Anthropologists approach time in a variety of ways. Fabian 1983 (21–33) categorized three uses of time in anthropology. The first category is "physical time," which is a parameter describing sociocultural processes and demographic or ecological changes. The "mundane" and "typological" times he discusses lie in the second category. The former describes the working of natural laws and the latter differentiates between the traditional and modern, rural and urban, and other such dichotomies. The third category is "intersubjective" time, which refers to human actions and interactions. The problem of distance between an anthropologist and the community being studied is common to all these uses. During fieldwork, anthropologists typically identify themselves with or become "coeval" with the communities they study. However, they typically organize their writings according to physical or typological time so that their ethnographies may not be regarded as poetry, fiction, or political propaganda. This issue of distance between the anthropologist and the target community has taken on new dimensions as more and more anthropologists have started to research their own cultures, which some investigators have labeled "anthropology at home" (cf. Jackson 1987; Mughal 2015b; Peirano 1998). Anthropology at home, which is what I practice in the context of this study, allows the discipline to reconsider the way it constructs "other."

Adam (1994), a social theorist of time, argues that studying time turns out to be complicated because it is concerned not only with the "subject" of anthropology but also with the lives of anthropologists. Further, it is "curiously invisible." It is therefore important to understand the meaning of time and its various expressions in language. Adam has also described various uses of time in English as "timing," "temporality," "time frame," and "tempo." Timing is related to "when time" in everyday English communication. Temporality forms a central component of time. Time frame is the conceptual space within which people organize, plan, and regulate their daily existence, whereas tempo is the speed of time passing. All these terminologies have become pertinent to anthropological writings about time.

Leach 961 (124–36) has also contributed three experiences of time. First, time-interval and duration always begin and end with the same thing. Leach recognized this experience as "repetition." Second, experience can be "aging," which involves birth, maturation, and death, through a process of irreversible change. Another experience is the "rate at which time passes." This third experience is the passing of time at a different speed during different stages of life. He offers a pendulum view of time as "a repetition of repeated reversal, a sequence of oscillations between polar opposites" (ibid.) For Leach, "we create time by creating intervals in our social life" (ibid.), whereas intervals are marked as repeated opposites. Ohnuki-Tierney (1969) analyzed the Ainu's time reckoning to show that the Ainu and Super-Ainu dichotomous concepts of time were, in fact, a "repeated contrast" operational at several levels in their time structure.

Barnes (1974) has preferred the term "cycle" over "oscillation," while arguing that in the yearly ceremonies of Kédang the sequence of events returned to its original state when it was completed. Rappaport 1999 (169–215) argues that stages of life are not "irreversible" because "recurrence" is undoubtedly embedded into them. He quoted the example of Evans-Pritchard 1940 (94–138) study of the Nuer to support his argument, where the death of the grandfather and the birth of the son were found to be associated. Anthropologists tend to denote the cyclical expressions of time to experiences that involve repetition. These cyclical expressions of time are observable in the monthly or yearly celebrations of rituals, the division of seasons, and, in a physical sense, in the coming of day and night. On the contrary, Bailey 1983 (167–68) and Ramble 2002 (S84) argued that since time is perceived through events, it is one-dimensional or linear and asymmetrical, flowing irreversibly from past to future. Although different anthropologists would argue in favor of one model of time against the other (cf. Munn 1992; Gell 1996;Gell 2000), this points to the complicated nature of time and its varied experiences within and between different cultures. Keeping this diversity of opinions in mind, let me now move on to related concepts of time and social change.

Time and Social Change

Change is linked with time in many respects. The nature and extent of the transformations depend upon which part of the social organization of time, and that of space as well, has been triggered to induce further changes in social organization. Economic change may bring about transformations in the ways of measuring time and space. For example, people experience the scarcity of time and space because of industrialization, which results in certain readjustments in the allocation of time and space in order to maximize productivity (cf. Low and Lawrence-Zúñiga 2003; Smith 1982; Thompson 1967). Demographic change, technological change, migration, religious conversion, and other types of change will have similar corresponding effects on the social organization of time and space, which will eventually transform the overall social organization of the collective group.

Geertz 1966 (360–411) has noted that whenever there is a change in the experience of time, it will alter the greater part of culture. Similarly, Errington 1974 (264–65) analyzed social order in Karavaran as being highly desirable, and people achieved social order during their rituals. Errington argued that a cargo movement contains symbols of social change toward becoming like Europeans. Therefore, the cargo movement is "an effort to instantaneously acquire a European level of social order" (ibid.) through the way local people perform their traditional rituals. In many studies, anthropologists found that new authority patterns, formed as a consequence of social change, mediate new forms of the social organization of time (e.g. Birth 1996; Burman 1981; Gilsenan 1996; Gingrich, Ochs and Swedlund 2002; Smith 1982). Due to this interconnectedness of time and social change, Barth 1967 ( 662) suggested studying the latter by calculating people's time allocation for different activities. People allocate different amounts of time to different activities based on their preferences, needs, and beliefs. Information about the difference in amounts of time allocated for different activities between different social groups helps analyze the direction of social change. For instance, Ember (1983) noted that due to technological change, agricultural intensification has increased to yield more production. Technological advances result in a reduced need for human input; therefore, women previously engaged in agricultural activities started allocating more time to their household activities.

Anthropologists view change as an inevitable phenomenon in every human culture. Analyses of social change thus account for such change in ways that draw on the available local evidence. In recent theories of social change that consider it a globalized phenomenon associated with modernity, time and space are core concepts. Societies and cultures are coming closer to each other, with a higher intensity and pace than ever before, due to "time-space compression" (Harvey 1990) or "time-space distanciation" (Giddens 1986) through modern ways of transportation, migration, the media, and international trade.

There has been a justifiable emphasis placed on globalization and urbanization in theories about social change because they would appear to be applicable to almost every culture today (see Forte 1998; Mazzarella 2004; Rankin 2003; Smart and Smart 2003). Such ubiquity should not be overstated, however. Different societies respond differently to the effects of globalization and urbanization. It is my contention that any explanation or interpretation of social change must make sense of the phenomenon on the ground (see Mughal 2014a; Inda and Rosaldo 2008; Nonini 2013). Both internal as well as external factors cause some sorts of changes in the overall social organization of a community. Both these factors may trigger, augment, or even oppose each other. A teleological explanation of their interplay is contingent upon the factors or the nature of social change. However, local socioeconomic circumstances, politics, and ideologies may pose a challenge to some of the external or global factors that bring about change. This negotiation between local realities and external or global factors of social change are often be mediated by the social organization of time and space in any given culture (Burman 1981; Friedman 1985; Smith 1982; Zoomers 2010).

The Setting and Methodology

This study is based on ethnography of Jhokwala village. The village is located in Lodhran District of the Punjab province. Despite urbanization, Lodhran's economy is chiefly based on agriculture (Mughal 2014a; Government of Pakistan 2000). The regional language in the southern part of the province, called South Punjab, is Saraiki. The national language, Urdu, is also understood and spoken by almost everybody in the village. In addition to Saraiki-speaking people, Urdu-speaking Rajputs who migrated from Haryana, India as an aftermath of Partition in 1947 also reside in the village. These Rajputs speak Haryanvi, considered to be a dialect of Urdu.2

Like many villages in the region, an inadequate supply of land available for agriculture has been caused in Jhokwala as a consequence of population growth and the division of land among multiple heirs. On the one hand, this has resulted in intensified agriculture practices enabled by modern technology. On the other hand, many farmers have abandoned agriculture, and are now working as wage laborers. This has increased the trend toward education and temporary migration to cities or even overseas in search of alternative economic prospects. The location of Jhokwala near a highway junction and local market, Adda Parmat, has also augmented the pace of urbanization and industrialization in the village. Therefore, agricultural land has been gradually transforming into industrial units and shops. Most of these changes started taking effect in the last couple of decades, at least on a visible level.

The fieldwork for this research was carried out intermittently for about ten months up until 2010 (Mughal 2015b). In addition to conventional ethnographic methods, such as participant observation, interviews, and focus group discussions, I conducted surveys and spot checks regarding time allocation and time reckoning. Spot checks are particularly important in documenting time allocation (Johnson 1996). A spot check is "snapshot-like recording of behaviour" to measure the time allocated by people for different activities (Gross 1984, 539). Many time allocation studies solely rely on such quantitative data, but I used spot checks by directly observing people at their engagements without taking part in their activities in order to record the time they allocate for different activities. These spot checks were often pre-informed. Sometimes I also paid unannounced random visits to homes and places of employment. I recorded most of the activities of men and women outside the household boundaries while taking into account concerns regarding privacy and gender segregation in Pakistani society. There have naturally been some issues with the reporting of women's time allocation for various activities in Pakistani villages due to gender segregation (Sultana, Nazli and Malik 1994). Some constraints in recording rural women's time allocation are thus encountered by male researchers due to lack of access. This situation is further worsened when using traditional "quantitative surveyors," a time-bound methodology that does not prove to be appropriate in rural areas. Being a male researcher, I used the questionnaire method for the women with whom I could not meet directly for an interview or conduct spot checks, given the cultural sensitivities regarding gender. Male members of the households, some of whom I trained, filled out these questionnaires with their women because I had developed rapport in the community over time.

The collective representation of time, as well as space, creates and shapes people's temporal and spatial experiences "for it seems that we cannot think of objects which are not in time and space" (Durkheim 1915, 22). An analysis of linguistic expressions in various cultural models explains the relative influence of different religions, nations, and political regimes that have shaped present-day Pakistani society. Since time is embedded in every aspect of culture, local terminologies used for various temporal expressions provide a comprehensive overview of the past and the present conditions of a phenomenon. In the next section I explore some important local terms in order to describe the time conceptions of Jhokwala's residents.

Daily Rhythm

Pahar and Clock

According to the indigenous temporal organization of the region, a 24-hour ḍīhin or din (day) comprises eight phases—four for daytime and four for night-time. Each phase is called pahar. The average length of each pahar is approximately three hours. However, the duration of each pahar is not uniform and varies throughout the year in relation to sunrise and sunset. The measurement of pahars is by no means through formal tools. The movement of the sun and other celestial bodies, such as tāre (stars), marks the beginning or end of a pahar. In the past, people used to calculate pahars through various methods. Elderly people in the village still have some knowledge of these methods. One man in the village described the local concepts of astronomy in the following way:3

tāre rise from here [points eastward in the sky]. They are [visible] in winter, not [visible] in summer. They disappear. In winter, the wells used to run according to these [tāre]. The wells used to start running after watching the taraṅgaṛ (a specific group of stars). Three tāre are together, these were called taraṅgaṛ. When the taraṅgaṛ rose in the east, it was the first pahar. There are four pahars in a night. Then the taraṅgaṛ came in the middle [of the sky]. It was midnight. This was the second pahar. Then the taraṅgaṛ start setting. Then it became the later pahar. Then the taraṅgaṛ kept coming in this direction. As the taraṅgaṛ continued setting, time moved further ahead. We calculated time accordingly. In the day, we used mark lines. Look! If the shadow of the sun was at this line [he marked on his hand], it was this pahar. If it was at that line, it was that pahar. [We] measured the shadow by erecting poles at appropriate distances on the ground. People were able to reckon it easily. Even the bulls [running on the well] could reckon it. Upon their turn, they used to stop. They used to stamp their feet hard the ground [to mark a pahar]. Then they used to start moving. When it was their turn, they stopped automatically. In addition to the taraṅgaṛ, there were [some other stars] the munnī and chiṭhīyān. The munnī are [located] below the taraṅgaṛ, which are two thick stars. The chiṭhīyān are just like this [he joins the tips of his two index fingers together]. They are also more visible in winter [but] less visible in summer. Now you see, Sāvaṇ (a month of the local agrarian calendar) has started. After Sāvaṇ, the taraṅgaṛ will be visible. (Khuda Bukhsh, 75)4

The system of pahars is, therefore, an indigenous way of measuring time throughout the day by the length of the shadow of anything such as a twig or a tree. The night paharsare measured through the movement of tāre in the sky. Only literate people use different terms for stars and planets (i.e., sīyāre). The pahars system was linked with agriculture before the use of modern technology, until the middle of the twentieth century. This system also helped in regulating social activities and maintaining the overall rhythm of the day. Elderly people told me some basic points regarding why farmers needed to divide the day into pahars, or in other words, the importance of time measurement in order to maintain the daily rhythm of activities. Firstly, people used shared wells to irrigate their lands. Therefore, farmers used pahars to determine their turns to use the well. Second, there were more than two brothers or partners who had to irrigate the same land. In such cases, they allocated pahars among each other for a just division of time between their bulls to let the animals take some rest after appropriate intervals. Another villager explained to me in the following manner:

We used to run the well [with the help of bulls]. When the two bulls [of one brother or partner] were tired then he asked the other one to run his bulls for the next pahar. We used to calculate pahars according to the position of the tāre, just as we say it is 8 o'clock now, so it was 8 o'clock according to the position of the tāre. Therefore, the other [brother] might reply that his turn had not come because the tāre were not at the specific position of the next pahar. (Muhammad Akbar, 49)

Third, women at home used pahars to estimate the time of their men's returning from fields in order to find out the exact time to prepare food for them. Fourth, people who had to start work early in the morning could get prepared before dawn by reckoning the night pahars. Fifth, dividing time into pahars helped knowing the timings of different prayers, as each namāz (prayer) is offered at a specific time. The synchronization of pahars with the five daily prayers helped reckoning pahars. However, with the passage of time, recognizing pahars with their specific names started to decline. Nowadays, specific phases of the day are referenced by prayer timings. A major factor behind the decrease in reckoning pahars is the use of clock time. Table 1 shows the day and night pahars along with their temporal markers and corresponding activities in Jhokwala.

Table 1: Pahars (note: clock times in hours given in the table are not exact, for they only indicate a rough estimation of time)

One night, I was making a video of people watching a movie at a tea stall in the village where men and boys socialize and spend their free time as leisure. The light went off suddenly because of a rolling blackout that is common in the country these days due to energy shortages and load shedding. It became difficult for us to see each other for a while. Out of the dark, I heard forty-year-old Saleem say the following:

Come at seven o'clock early in the morning. I am going into the fields to spray [pesticide] in Basti Fateh Rasheed (a nearby village). Make your video there. Take my photograph too.

The next morning, around seven o'clock, I arrived at the designated spot and saw Saleem coming along with his two friends. We went to a nearby village, Basti Fateh Rasheed, a few miles from Jhokwala. They had obtained some land on tenancy there, where I shot the video of them spraying pesticides in the fields. I was told that they had a plan to return home at twelve noon. I could not stay there for the whole time because I wanted to meet someone else at another location. I returned to Jhokwala with one of them who was returning early too. The very next day, I saw them going to the fields in the morning at seven o'clock. I was curious if Saleem managed his entire timetable according to clock time. After some days, I asked him about pahars. He told me his elders used to count pahars but he did not because he used clock time only.

More than half of the village population wore watches, according to a survey that I conducted during the fieldwork, and almost every home and shop had a clock. The use of clock time indicates the need to reckon time more precisely in shorter durations. This is because their jobs, television program schedules, and even the prayer timings strictly follow clock time. In the mosque, the time for each prayer is written on a board describing hours and minutes for jamā't (congregation) timings. As the day length and the shadow of the sun changes during different seasons within a given year, the prayer timings are managed accordingly. These days, pahars are named after the names of the daily prayers. For instance, at sunset, the commonly used term for expressing this pahar is not namā shīn dā vīlā; instead, the word maghrib (evening prayer that is performed at sunset) is used to express the time of sunset. People schedule their meetings by taking the prayer timings as reference.

Time Allocation

The daily rhythm of an individual's life in Jhokwala is maintained through different activities. I broadly categorize these activities into religion, economy, leisure, personal care, household, and education, instead of providing more detailed references like sleeping, bathing, and so on. In some anthropological studies, a detailed categorization is made if the community is comprised of a homogeneous population with respect to their occupations and a collective involvement in group activities. For example, Sahlins (1972) categorized the details of hunting and gathering activities into traveling, hunting, and meat distribution, because the concerned population was all hunters and gatherers. In Jhokwala, people have different occupations and their economic, household, and social activities may not always overlap. I refer to the five daily prayers, the recitation of Qur'an, and other such rituals as religious activities. Economic activities include all types of agricultural labor, selling, buying, trading, wage labor, brokering, and salaried jobs. I also calculated the time required to travel to the workplace as a part of the respective activity. Household activities range from child caring to preparing food and cleaning the house.

I have categorized leisure into sports, watching TV, gossip, and listening to music. These activities are gender and age specific. For example, boys play cricket and some traditional games like gīṭī ḍanā or gillī ḍanḍā (a game similar to tip-cat) and piṭhū garam (a game similar to seven stones). Some sports are specific to girls like sṭāpū (hopscotch). Others are played both by girls and boys like lud̤o (a board game) and chuppan chupāī (hide and seek). Similarly, men play volleyball, lud̤o, and snooker. During leisure time, men gather at tea stalls or at a ḍīrah, a place where men meet to gossip, smoke a water pipe, and discuss important community matters.5 Women play lud̤o, but for a majority of them, chatting with peers and watching TV are the main or only forms of leisure as a result of restrictions against movement outside of the home without familial supervision. Most elderly men and women smoke huqqahs (water pipes), which I have categorized as leisure. I present other activities like sleeping and bathing as personal care. There are certain social activities that are not performed regularly; for example, attending birth, marriage, death, and other such ceremonies are periodic rites of passage rather than regular activities. I have categorized them as other, which also includes activities like tīmārdārī or 'ayādat. 'Ayādat refers to visiting patients, inquiring about their health, bringing fruit or gifts, and spending some time with them. Tīmārdārī, on the other hand, refers to taking care of the patient.

The amount of time allocated to and timing of different activities varies from one individual to the other, even within the same age and occupational group. I present here an average of all the people included in the sample of about fifty individuals. These people belong to different occupations, genders, and age groups. All the activities vary throughout the year, month, and week. For example, during the fasting month, people change their routine accordingly (Mughal 2014b). Some people have a different routine on the weekend. Farmers are busy during some months and are relatively free during the others when they are not cultivating or harvesting. Seasonal variations cause change in the day-length, which affects the timing of various activities in different months of a year. For example, the duration between the five-time daily prayers is greater in summer than it is in winter. I have included the calculation of time allocation for different activities on an average basis. I have also shown the schedule of these activities through clock time for simplicity's sake, but this does not mean that people follow a strict timing, except for prayers and some activities like going to and returning from their offices and schools. For instance, cooking may last for fifteen minutes to an hour, depending on the complexity of the dishes being prepared. Similarly, some children go to the mosque for reciting Qur'an in the morning while others go in the afternoon.

The civil day in Jhokwala starts just before sunrise with the time of the morning prayer around five a.m. in summer and six a.m. in winter. The azān (call to prayer) calling the faithful to the morning prayer is the first activity noticed in the village, though some people offer tahajjud (early morning prayer) before the azān at their homes. The day ends around midnight in summer and earlier in winter. Table 2 shows a rhythm of mundane activities in Jhokwala. It represents a typical daily schedule of an adult man, woman, and a child.

Table 2: Daily Rhythm

Now I present the daily time allocation for various activities specific to different genders and ages. Table 3 shows an average time allocation for different activities by men, women, and children. It clearly demonstrates that all of the activities differ according to people's gender and age. There is also a difference of time allocation between married and unmarried people. The unmarried adults, for example, are also engaged in educational activities. I present here only an average time allocation by adult men and women regardless of their marital status. Negligible differences for time allocation in different seasons have been rounded off. For instance, during certain seasons, farmers allocate a greater amount of time to their economic activities like cultivation and harvesting than they do during usual months when they are waiting for the right time to do these activities. This affects the amount of their time allocated for other activities, such as leisure.

Table 3: Time Allocation of Men, Women, and Children

Men and women allocate one and eight hours, respectively, for household activities. Children allocate two hours for household activities. Girls spend more time at home than boys do and help their mothers with household activities like cooking. Children do not offer prayers regularly but they learn how to recite the Qur'an, which makes their time allocated for religious activities almost equal to that of men and women. Men allocate more time (4.5 hours) for economic activities than women do (one hour). Children's time allocation for economic activities shows that they help their parents in agriculture, shops, and other businesses. For example, if a shopkeeper has to visit some friend or buy something from the city, he asks his son to take care of the shop for that period instead of closing it. Farmers, shopkeepers, laborers, and those doing jobs in offices allocate different amounts of time for various activities depending upon their occupations.

Farmers allocate five hours to their economic activities at various stages of the agricultural cycle from cultivation to harvesting and marketing. Shopkeepers and laborers allocate 9.5 and six hours to their economic activities, respectively. Similarly, farmers have a different time allocation for household activities and leisure than that of other occupational groups because they allocate a lesser amount of time to their economic activities when they are not cultivating or harvesting. All the men, irrespective of their occupations, allocate an approximately equal amount of time for religious and childcare activities. Table 4 compares the time allocation of men in different occupations. This table also indicates that an average farmer finds more time for leisure activities than men in other occupations.

Table 4: Men's Daily Time Allocation in Different Occupations

Weekly Rhythm

According to most scholars, the historical evidence of practicing a seven-day week dates back to the sixth century BCE, to Jews who adopted the seven-day week framework from Babylonians during the Babylonian Captivity (Senn 1997). This means that Babylonians might have been using a seven-day week earlier than this period. Similarly, according to ancient Sanskrit sources like the Rig Veda, the practice of the seven-day week has a millennia-old history in South Asia. However, the concept of a seven-day week is not universal. For instance, Romans used an eight-day week based on a market week or nundinal cycle adopted from Etruscans, and they also adopted a seven-day week during the first or second century (Pinches 2003). There is also evidence to show the use of a seven-day week in China as early as the fourth century. The Basque people in Spain have a reference to a three-day week in their language (Bausani 1982). The Igbos of Nigeria and Javanese in Indonesia still use four-day and five-day weeks, respectively (Manus 2007). Similarly, there are examples of use of a six-day week in West Africa by some communities such as the Nchumuru (Agorsah 1983). This implies that the calculation of weekdays and the weekend within the week varies in different cultures and is informed through indigenous knowledge of astronomy, and is influenced by social practices as well as economic modes.

A week consisting of seven days in all three calendars is practiced in Jhokwala. One of the words in Saraiki for welcome is sat bismillah. This is an indication that one is happy to meet the other again, or in other words, "you are always welcome!" One of its literal meanings is "seven [times] in the name of Allah." In fact, it means you are welcome on any of the seven days of the week. Therefore, the idea of a seven-day week is very much embedded in local time reckoning. The term used for the week is haftah and stands for the week as well as Saturday. It is a Persian word for the numerical haft (seven). Navān or nayā haftah (new week), pichlā haftah (last week), agle hafte (next week), and āunde hafte (coming week) are used to refer to a week. When haftah is used for Saturday, it refers to the seventh day. Since Friday has been, and still is, the weekend in the indigenous time reckoning, Saturday has been numbered as the seventh day. There are also specific names for Saturday in both Saraiki and Urdu, which are chaṇḍ, chaṇḍ, and sanīcar, respectively. However, haftah is also used in everyday communication. The apparent ambiguity of referring to haftah as either a week or Saturday can only be understood according to the situation. People usually specify in their conversation to which haftah they are referring. For instance, hafte ālī ihīnvār or hafte vāle din (the day of haftah [Saturday]) and navān haftah (the new week) are self-explanatory expressions.

The Saraiki and Urdu names of the days of the week are of Sanskrit origin except for khamīs or juma'rāt (Thursday) and juma'h (Friday), which are of Arabic and Persian origin.6 The names of the rest of the days of the week are in Sanskrit and do not have any association with the Islamic beliefs, as shown in Table 5.

Table 5: The Days of the Week (Note: The first local term is in Saraiki while the second one used as an alternate is in Urdu. An asterisk [*] suggests that the designated terms are used equally in both languages).

These names have religious significance in Hinduism but their continued use in Pakistani society, which is largely Muslim, is now simply a part of a previously shared naming practice that is relegated to cultural memory. Local names for Friday and Thursday signify the religious importance of these days for Muslims. Friday is the day of the communal weekly prayer. Hence, the day is called juma'h (literally meaning congregation) after the prayer offered on that day by Muslims. Juma'h is an Arabic word that connotes the congregation of worshippers who gather together in a mosque for communal prayer. The significance of juma'rāt is primarily because the lunar Thursday starts on the eve of the solar Friday according to the Islamic calendar. Therefore, the solar Thursday enters into lunar Friday. Jum'rāt literally means Friday night. For Western observers this concept of Friday night may be somewhat confusing. The names used for Thursday and Friday, jum'rāt and juma'h, respectively, mark religious identity and show the importance of these days in the religion, such as during death rituals (cf. Philip 1921, 30; Rappaport 1999, 169–235). The use of older names in new traditions is common to almost every culture. For instance, the modern English names of the days of the week continue those of the ancient Romans and Greeks (Brown 1989; Richards 1998). Sunvār or somvār (Monday) is also sometimes symbolized as a sacred day in Jhokwala because many 'urs (death day) commemorations of saints are celebrated on this day. Hence, it is named pīr (saint), as in the expression "sunvār, pīren dā vār" (Monday [is] the day of the saints).

In addition to jum'rāt, the Saraiki term for Thursday is khamīs. Khamīs is Arabic for the fifth [day]. This meaning indicates Saturday as the first day of the week, which suggests that Friday is the weekend. However, Sunday is the official weekend in Pakistan now, as mentioned earlier. Some people in Jhokwala believe that Friday should not be celebrated as a holiday and there is no concept of a weekend in Islam. One villager, for example, told me the following:

There is no weekly holiday according to Islam. The Qur'an says close your shops, and buying, and selling when you hear the azān calling the juma'h [prayer]. Then spread in the earth for earning. (Hayat, 27)

Some people in Jhokwala support the official weekly holiday on Friday. For them, Friday is a sacred day and an important symbol of Islamic identity. Therefore, they believe that the weekly holiday should be on Friday. In fact, the weekend is partially practiced, be it on Sunday or Friday, by farmers. No school in Jhokwala remains open on Sunday, and those working or studying in Lodhran City take Sunday off, though markets in the city are also fully or partially closed on Friday. However, not all people take their day off on Sundays. For instance, the tailor's shop in the village is also closed all day on Friday. Many people, especially some farmers, consider Friday as the day of rest, since this is the day they offer the grand congregational prayer as a major event of a usual week. It is important to clarify here that in the usual cycle of agricultural activities there is no consistent weekly holiday. Farmers work on any day that suits them and carry on their activities as needed. For instance, in harvesting season, they rent a harvesting machine on an hourly basis, so much depends upon the availability of the machine on the days when it is required. Therefore, farmers have to carry on their activities regardless of Fridays and Sundays to complete the task within the period they can use the harvester or any other machinery rented for the period. Their routine is thus scheduled according to other service providers, such as offices, markets, and shops. Similarly, women at home, who also work in the fields, work on all the days of the week.

The local market, Adda Parmat, remains open seven days a week though some shops are closed on Friday. Farmers and shopkeepers, who work on Fridays, take a break during the Friday prayer while others may not work on Friday at all. Many shops close at juma'h prayer time but reopen as soon as the prayer finishes. Since the Adda Parmat market is a highway bus stop and traffic runs 24/7, some shops and hotels are open from early morning until late at night. Similarly, this market is at the junction of several villages, so there are several mosques nearby where people may offer juma'h prayers at different timings. This means that if shop A closes for juma'h, shop B might remain open at that time. I mentioned earlier the ambiguity inherent in the term haftah. The ambiguity increases regarding whether navān haftah starts from Saturday or Monday. Therefore, no fixed weekend is practiced in rural areas.

Discussion and Conclusion

I have discussed the indigenous method of dividing the day into different stages called pahars, once an essential element of agricultural activities in rural Punjab. For better or for worse, they have been replaced by clock time, due to pressure from the cosmopolitan areas to keep time with global economic flows. In the pahar system, the day is divided into longer phases in contrast to smaller units like hours and minutes. The use of the clock indicates the scarcity of time in the industrial economy, caused by, and expressed through, technological change (see Ingold 1995; Smith 1982; Thompson 1967). Further, in the pahar system the temporal markers are natural phenomena, such as the movement of the sun. Therefore, paharsare automatically adjusted with seasonal variations, without any need to adjust them for daylight saving time, in contrast to clock time that is unable to coordinate with climatic changes (Bastian 2012). Pakistan started practicing, though intermittently, daylight saving time in 2002 for some years in order to regulate its energy needs, but it has been a hotly debated practice since then. The issue is whether the country needs to practice it at all, given the largely rural nature of the national economy (e.g., Dawn 2009). In rural areas, despite following clock time, people did not practice daylight saving time whenever it was announced by the government. The reason for this was because villagers' daily rhythm is maintained through prayer timing and a partial reckoning of pahars. Regulating day timing with prayer timing also points to people's attitudes toward time as well as religion.

Time allocation data shows that men, women, and children allocate different amounts of time for various activities. People perform their activities according to their specifically ascribed roles, depending upon their age, gender, and socioeconomic conditions. Men spend most of their time outside of their homes, be it for economic or leisurely reasons. Women take care of their homes, and because of restrictions on movement outside of the home their leisure activities are mainly inside the household's boundaries. However, female time allocation also shows that rural women are involved in economic activities along with household care. The data also show that shopkeepers spend more time on their economic activities. This indicates the nature of activities they perform as part of their occupation. For instance, markets are open until late in the evening and even over the weekend. On the contrary, wage laborers and farmers spend less time on their economic activities than shopkeepers do. Therefore, farmers and wage laborers have more time for leisure activities. However, people from all these occupations spend almost an equal amount of time on religious activities.

The Islamic names for religiously significant days like juma'rāt and juma'h represent religious identity in a society where Muslims have lived with Hindus, Sikhs, and other religious groups for centuries. Continuity in the use of the names of other days like mangal provide a trace of cultural memory echoing a multi-religious past. Muslims offer their great congregational prayer on Friday and it is the most venerated day of the week in Muslim cultures all over the world for religious reasons (Böwering 1997; Eickelman 1977; El Guindi 2008, 130–31; Goitein 1959). The weekly holiday has become a matter of debate in some Muslim countries. People argue in opposition to or in favor of celebrating Friday or Sunday as a weekly holiday, taking into account the significance of Friday from a religious perspective and that of Sunday for international business (cf. Arab News 2007; British Broadcasting Corporation 2009; Muroki, 1977; Gulf News 2006). The debate is ongoing, with seemingly no resolution in sight. Despite the fact that Sunday is the official weekly holiday in Pakistan, Friday is still an important day of the week because of the grand prayer held on that day. However, the concept of a weekly holiday is partially practiced in villages, mainly because farmers organize their social lives according to the seasonal cycles that regulate agricultural activities.

The effects of globalization and urbanization in rural Pakistan can be observed through shifts in the market economy, nuclear household units, modern education, and the availability of more pervasive communication, like mass media and the Internet. However, certain norms and values are still a vital part of rural social organization, and they highlight people's resistance to some aspects of social change. As I have shown, there are some aspects of the social organization of time that seem to have resisted transformation, such as the centrality of prayer timings in the categorization of day phases. Moreover, Friday still remains a quintessential day of the week. These two aspects of culture are indicative of a cultural response toward social change in Jhokwala. In order to understand how rural people adapt to social change, therefore, the study and analysis of daily and weekly rhythms can provide us with keen insights into what is changing and what is not in the local lives of rural villagers. For instance, the aspects of time that are essentially religious in nature seem to continue, but even they are being transformed gradually for utilitarian purposes, although their underlying religious or moral reasoning still appears to be the same. Similarly, cultural memories and the continuity of centuries-old traditions as expressed in indigenous cultural models of time highlight religious and ethnic co-existence in rural Pakistan. On the contrary, transformations in what is called the "secular" or economic domains of society are also occurring. Jhokwala is no exception, for similar situations exist in most Pakistani villages, albeit at different rates of social change with different intensities, depending upon the local context of rural economy and demography. Villages that are close to cities or have good access to roads and transportation, as Jhokwala does, have experienced industrialization and urbanization at a considerably higher pace, bringing about more rapid sociocultural and economic transformations.

The centrality and continuity of religious aspects of the social organization of time must not be confused with Islamization or religious fundamentalism, however. Since there are so many diverse opinions on what Islamization is and means, we need to be cautious in using this term in the context of my research on time calculation. In a country with diverse cultural traditions (e.g., peasantry, tribalism, urbanism), diverse ethnicities, and, most importantly, multiple schools of thought or sects, the extent and strength of Islamization varies across Pakistan. In some parts, for example the tribal areas of Pakistan, specific geopolitical conditions have played a decisive role in shaping the response toward urbanization and quot;modernity."7

In two neighboring countries, Iran and Afghanistan, Islamization took place after the religious revolution in 1979 and under the impact of the Taliban in the 1990s, respectively. However, as opposed to the condition of "post-Islamization," where the relationship between religion and the state has been contested after the experiences of Islamization, such as in Iran (Bayat 1996, 2005), rural Pakistanis have not been as deeply influenced by national policies of Islamization, such as those carried out during the 1980s. As Kurin (1985) concluded in his study of the peasantry, rural Pakistanis consider the nation as a state that was formed to uplift the political control and economic conditions of the Muslims of South Asia. He noted that while rural Pakistanis assert their Islamic identity, when required, in the context of India-Pakistan relations, U.S. policies, Israel, and Pakistan's nuclear technology, they also define themselves as Islamic by being "part of a larger human community that is indeed moral" (Kurin 1985, 862). The resistance in rural Pakistan to certain aspects of "cultural globalization" (Mazzarella 2004) or urbanization, I argue, should be analyzed by taking into account the people's worldview and local socioeconomic realities. Studying the temporal and spatial aspects of a community's worldview, as I have done, is one way to begin understanding the degrees of sociocultural change that impact rural communities in Pakistan and elsewhere in South Asia.


This paper is based on my doctoral research at the University of Durham. I am thankful to my supervisors, Dr Stephen M. Lyon and Dr Iain R. Edgar, for their guidance and support during this project. I am indebted to the support of the people of Jhokwala and the District Agriculture Department, Lodhran during the fieldwork. I also thank the anonymous reviewers for their comments. The editors of the journal also assisted generously in the final preparation of the manuscript. The University of Durham supported the research (Durham Doctoral Fellowship), as did the Royal Anthropological Institute (Sutasoma Award), and the Charles Wallace Pakistan Trust, UK (Doctoral Bursary).


  1. Since time and space are two interrelated concepts, reference to one automatically implicates the other. There is a great deal of anthropological literature to support the idea that both play important roles in social organization (see Mughal 2014a). 

  2. Both groups share most of the local terminologies regarding time. In this paper, I will use the terminologies from both languages, if separate terminologies are used in either of those languages spoken in the area. Subsequently, only the Saraiki terminology has been used for the concept for the sake of simplicity. Most local terminologies for different stages of the day are Saraiki, as these were collected only from Saraiki-speaking people, but are mutually intelligible in both the languages. If two alternative terms are given in the text, the first one is Saraiki. Some terminologies are of Arabic and Persian origin but their spelling and transliteration is given as colloquial in Pakistani languages. 

  3. No differentiation is made between stars and planets in local terminology and a single term tāre, is used for both. 

  4. Some names are pseudonyms to protect the identities of local residents who wish not to be named. 

  5. Although it is a place where men meet and gossip, enjoy smoking a pipe, and other leisure activities, it is also used for various other purposes. For instance, depending upon circumstances, it is also used a place where local disputes are settled (see Lyon 2004). 

  6. The spellings of Arabic and Persian terminologies are not standard but are closer to the colloquial use in Pakistan. 

  7. Different definitions and expressions of modernity exist in various academic and political discourses. A reference to any particular form of modernity is not intended here. Instead, I intend here to refer to all those expressions of "modernity" that are presumed to be opposites of so-called traditional norms and values, religious extremism, and traditional gender roles. 


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